Chesney's "Victorian Underworld" -- the secret Victorian underbelly of cyberpunk

After reading yesterday's post about the role that Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor played in the birth of steampunk, William Gibson wrote in to add,
I've never actually read Mayhew, but feel I've long had him, through brilliant osmosis, with Kellow Chesney's Victorian Underworld, which is easily one of my favorite books ever. People assume, when I tell them that, that Chesney would mainly have influenced The Difference Engine, but actually this was very consciously the basis of the criminal society of Neuromancer, et al. It was a Victorian model, as I saw what's since come to be called neoconservatism producing a neo-Victorian world. Not a bad call, either!

I literally had The Victorian Underworld on my desk constantly, throughout the writing of Neuromancer, and for years after.

Victorian Underworld (Thanks, Bill!)

(Image: The Victorian Underworld from rauter25's photostream)


  1. I have to say, I don’t take book recommendations from many people – it’s BoingBoing and one good friend of mine, and I have yet to be disappointed. Thanks!

  2. Ha, I came in to give thanks for the book recommendations, too! This one from William Gibson, no less.

  3. William Gibson’s typo is actually a cool title for a whole new book — “Neoromancer”. Huh. Hmm…..

  4. For some reason, I first read the title as ‘Cheney’s Victorian Underworld’, and I thought, ‘Wow, the dude’s really branching out.’

  5. Let me second this — it’s a really useful book if you’re writing seamy underworld stories!

  6. I seem to remember in the early days of Gibson’s blog he mentioned, as influences, this book and “The Victorian Internet” by Tom Standage, a history of the telegraph. Standage also wrote a book about the Mechanical Turk.


  7. For those in the U.S., it looks like this was published under a different title: The anti-society; an account of the Victorian underworld. Boston: Gambit, 1970.

  8. This appears to be OOP, so I went to reserve it through the L.A. library and am third on a waiting list even though its current status is “available.” BB’s influence is far and wide.

  9. It seems Mimchael Creighton used this book extensively when researching and developing his “The Great Train Robbery”

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